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by Colonel Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto


Ambiguous statements made by Pres. Shimon Peres in Parliament on 18th November last, during his recent visit to Britain raised many an eyebrow, being interpreted as a way of thanking Britain for its smooth rule of Palestine starting in 1917, and ending in a regional catastrophe in 1948.

Here is one of them: "The State of Israel began to take shape as Great Britain, under the leadership of Winston Churchill, saved the world from the Nazi threat. It was a time when many countries closed their gates to Holocaust survivors. The nascent Jewish state was alarmed."

It sounds as if the gates of Palestine were open, at least during Churchill's rule, which is not the fact. While a narrow doorway was to remain open until 1944, Palestine's gates were kept locked by the British and forced open by Jewish resistance.

History teaches that Britain turned its back to the obligations it took at the end of World War I to assist in building a Jewish National Home in Palestine, which resulted in the loss of Britain's position in the Middle East (ME) and the perpetuation of hostilities in the area.

As a covert operative of Hagannah's Mossad Le'Aliyah who sailed in "illegal", rusty, over-crowded outfits called ships and operated in Europe, Egypt, Palestine and Cyprus against the British blockade during 1945-47, my experience contradicts Peres's rhetoric elegance.

Britain's pro-Zionist stand ended in 1922. The implementation of the November 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration, whereby Britain assumed the task of facilitating the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, was sanctioned by the League of Nations in 1922, the year Britain's pro-Zionist Prime Minister Lloyd George was demoted. The task of assisting the Jewish ingathering became the charge of the Colonial Secretary and of the Army who were anything but pro-Jewish.

Starting in 1916, Britain's Sikes, with France's Picot in tow, carved out a multitude of Arab states from the disintegrating Turkish Ottoman Empire. The encouragement of (pro-British) Arab nationalism was a by-product which collided with the support of Zionism. General Allenby's Intelligence Officer, Col. Richard Meinertzhagen, CBE, DSO, provides a vivid description of the British drift away from its assignment in his book Middle-East Diary 1917-1956 (The Cressed Press, London, 1959). The restriction of Jewish immigration to Palestine, the relative freedom of Arab migration and the tolerance (incitement?) of Arab violence especially in 1921 and 1929 when the mass murder of Hebron's Jews took place, were part of the British "support" of Zionism.

In 1933, when Hitler's Nazi Germany started its bestial persecution of German Jews, no country in the world offered a life saving political asylum to the hundreds of thousands of refugees pleading for shelter to avoid perdition. Britain released a paltry 50,000 extra entry permits beyond the meager immigration quota to Palestine, the designated "Jewish National Home". The ones stranded in Europe, were condemned to death.

It is in these circumstances that the Mossad Le'Aliyah was formed in 1934 by the Hagannah to rescue Jewish refugees forcing the locked gates of Palestine. The Revisionist Movement and private, often greedy organizations contributed to the flow before and during WWII. Between 1934 and 1948 when the Mossad Le'Aliyah was relieved of the task, about 115,000 "illegal" immigrants reached Palestine. In May, 1948, when Israeli independence was declared, about every fifth Jewish citizen was an "illegal" immigrant. 3,000 perished during or about their sailing. That is 3%. More, percentagewise, than Britain's total losses during the Second World War.

In May 1939, in accordance with the Chamberlain policy of appeasement, Britain gave in to Arab terrorist demands and issued a "White Paper" reneging on its pledge to support the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Jewish immigration and land purchase were to stop while the borders with the Arab countries were open for Arab migrants looking for jobs created by the Jews (The 1950 UN definition of Arab refugees was "Arabs who resided in Palestine for at least two years").

Churchill attributed the White Paper to the British government's impotence: "....I must say that I have not taken such a low view of the strength of the British Empire...." Lieutenant-Commander Fletcher's words were explicit: "I think what we have seen in the White Paper is another instance of how the government gets out of their difficulties by sacrificing the easiest victims. The government are now joining in the hunt of the Jews which is going on in Europe. Last year, to get out of a difficulty, they did not hesitate to sell the Czechs down the river. This year we see them prepared to sell the Jews down the river." Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary, commented on Malcolm MacDonald's speech supporting Chamberlain: "I should have had more respect for him and his speech if he had frankly admitted that the Jews were to be sacrificed to the incompetence of the government in the matter, to be sacrificed to its inability to govern, to be sacrificed to its apparent fear, if not indeed, its sympathy with violence and these Arab methods of murder and assassination." (Emphasis added. Note that there were no "occupied territories" at the time)

Ben-Gurion's answer to the White Paper was: "Let's fight the Nazis as if there were no White Paper and the White Paper as if there were no Nazis". Over 30,000 Jews volunteered and joined the British Armed Forces. Almost 7% of Palestinian Jewry (what percentage in Britain?). The others ran the civilian War Effort. When Rommel reached El Almein in 1942, the Jewish settlement in Palestine remained the only trustworthy British ally in the Middle East. Arabs became restive. Some mutinied.

It was expected that Britain, which bore the shame of the Chamberlain leadership in 1939, would, in post WWII circumstances, declare the White Paper obsolete and adopt a different stand, realizing that it became, by omission, an accomplice of the Nazis (see above Fletcher and Morrison), having prevented the escape of deathbound refugees.

Unfortunately, the British government did not change tack. The Atlee-Bevin Labour government kept the gates locked and suggested that the surviving refugees who fled their horrible past and communist future be returned, if necessary by force, to the countries of their families cemeteries, which the allies refused.

On the 22nd of March, 1945, after the fate of war has been decided, Britain created the Arab League to provide support of its post-war ME policy. It deployed about 100,000 military personnel in Palestine, one for every five Jews, be they kids or aged, to force Jewish compliance.

But the rusty, downtrodden Mossad embarkations carried the day against the Royal Navy. Bankrupt Britain was entirely dependent upon US aid and the US supported Jewish immigration to Palestine so as not to be forced to open its own gates. Britain was forced to return the mandate of Palestine to the newly established United Nations, which decided to establish two states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish. The Jews agreed. Pan-Arabia, by now the Arab League, British trained and equipped, in some cases British officered, did not. It went to war against nascent Israel and lost miserably. The 1949 Rhodes Armistice should have put an end to war, were not Arab hatred, pride and outside forces to convince pan-Arabia and later Iran that new conventional wars and terror will let them annihilate the Jewish state.

Britain is the engine that drove the Middle East between 1917 and 1950's. It should muster the courage to recognize its responsibility for its past policies and deeds in the area and help dissolve rather than promote hatred. European states were courageous enough to apologise for crimes of commission or crimes of omission committed under duress before and during WWII.

Britain's record in the Middle East, both past and present justifies a thorough soulsearching.

Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto, Col (ret.), Israel Air Force, was a Mossad Le'Aliyah operative in 1945-47. He is a forty-one-year veteran of Israel's defense establishment. An air force pilot, he studied at the French Ecole Supérieure de Guerre Aérienne and eventually retired with the rank of colonel. Mr. Tsiddon-Chatto was a member of the Knesset from 1988-1992 (Tzomet party) and a member of the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference (1991). He has written extensively on policy and security issues in Israel and abroad.

This was submitted December 24, 2008.


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